Empowering Educators: Supporting Courageous Conversations on Race in the Classroom: Pizza Hut and First Book
In 1984, Pizza Hut created the BOOK IT! Program, with a mission of turning “have to read” into “want to read.” Over the years, Pizza Hut’s decades long commitment to literacy and learning remained steadfast, though it evolved over time, as the company realized that inspiring readers was only one solution to a multi-faceted issue.
In 2016, Pizza Hut partnered with nonprofit First Book to achieve an ambitious goal of impacting 100 million lives over 10 years by enabling access to books, empowering educators and inspiring readers.
In 2018, the partners launched a commercial co-venture called the First Book Bundle – in which Pizza Hut donated $1 to First Book for every purchase of a meal deal. Little did they know, launching this product would change the trajectory of their partnership, paving the way for these two organizations to provide educators with resources on race and social justice at a critical moment in 2020, as our nation was in the throes of a racial reckoning.
To make the most of the new funding opportunity generated by the First Book Bundle, Pizza Hut and First Book jointly developed a strategic plan for creating new programs and activities that would:
- Support critical issues impacting kids in need and the educators who serve them, and
- Connect to issues that consumers – especially Millennials and Gen Z – care most about
Through a combination of primary and secondary research conducted by both Pizza Hut and First Book, the team centered its strategy based on key learnings that revealed that:
- Literacy rates lag in the Black and Latinx community: two of the fastest growing demographics in the U.S.
- Most educators wanted to engage their students more proactively in conversations about race but the majority did not feel equipped with the skills to do so.
- Educators wanted access to books with characters and stories that reflect the lives of the children they serve (there is a significant gap in BIPOC representation in children’s literature), as well as discussion guides to be used alongside relevant books.
- Equal rights, civil rights and discrimination was a top social issue for both Millennials and Gen Z consumer segments.
- Multi-cultural consumers represent $3.9 trillion in buying power.
This research in hand, the team developed a two-pronged approach that would fuel literacy and education outcomes, dial-in on specific issues that matter to consumers, and influence change towards a more just and open educational landscape. Specifically the team would:
- Develop and distribute resources that represent the diversity of our culture and promote inclusion
- Empower people to have courageous and inclusive conversations about race
To kick start their efforts, Pizza Hut and First Book teamed up with Karamo, culture expert on Netflix’s Queer Eye, to launch an awareness campaign shining a spotlight on the need for greater diversity in children’s books. The campaign was strategically timed to launch while Karamo was on tour to promote his newly released children’s book I Am Perfectly Designed – a book that exemplifies diverse representation and celebrates inclusion.
Meanwhile, the team began simultaneously developing two new resources for educators and students that would promote equity and inclusion in the classroom.
Empowering Educators, a series of free resources to support educators as they engage students in effective, courageous conversations about race and social justice and informed by leading anti-bias and antiracist experts. The suite of resources includes a guidebook and a digital series of videos that explain concepts and then demonstrate and model those concepts in practice with students
Special Edition Stories For All Books: Pizza Hut and First Book brought to life five popular children’s books – featuring diverse characters and inclusive narratives – by funding a custom, special edition paperback version of each title. Selected from First Book’s Stories For All collection, these titles were previously only available in hardcover, making them cost prohibitive to many educators. Together, Pizza Hut and First Book made them more affordable and accessible, bringing 15,000 copies of each title to the First Book Marketplace.
In the first quarter of 2020, the team was busy preparing these resources for a “Back to School” season launch. By mid-March, however, COVID-19 instantly changed the way the educators taught and supported their students – especially those serving kids in need. These educators sent students home with any books available. The team quickly pivoted its time and resources to address this new crisis.
First, Pizza Hut rallied its franchise community to create a new program called Read & Feed – donating $500,000 to First Book and 250,000 certificates for free personal pan pizzas. The new funding would provide educators with books they could send home with their students. And throughout the month of April, educators who placed an order with First Book received a packet of 25 pizza certificates to also send home to their students.
As the COVID-crisis matured into the summer, it put a spotlight on racial inequities and dovetailed with the broader social justice movement, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Conversations on race and social justice reached a fever pitch, and the Pizza Hut and First Book team galvanized around their earlier commitment to launch Empowering Educators in time for back-to-school season.
As a result, the partnership between First Book and Pizza Hut has led to greater customer loyalty to Pizza Hut, increases in brand perception and significant PR for each launch moment of 2020 (the awareness campaign with Karamo, Read & Feed, and Empowering Educators).
To date, First Book and Pizza Hut have reached over 1 million students and over 45,000 educators nationwide (estimated with educators serving 30 students each on average). The guidebook has been downloaded more than 13,000 times, over 13,500 people registered for the Convening, and more than 1.2 million diverse and inclusive books have been distributed through this initiative.
The Read & Feed program saw $500,000 granted to educators nationwide, resulting in the distribution of over 850,000 books and educational resources reaching over 506,000 students.